Abigail Merschman is the home décor buyer for Iowa-based Homemakers.
Abigail Merschman is the home décor buyer for 215,000 square-foot, Urbandale, Iowa-based Homemakers. The 48-year-old store was purchased by Nebraska Furniture Mart in 2000 but is still managed and operated by the Merschman family.
As a third-generation family member, did you always plan to join the family business?
I did not. I went to South Dakota State University to study broadcast journalism. I had plans and dreams of being a sideline reporter. But college doesn’t always pan out as your high school self thinks it will. I got sick during my third year of college with endometriosis. During surgeries and downtime and rest, I started to become interested in e-commerce and digital marketing. I had no training for that in school, but what’s beautiful about that industry is that you can teach yourself. I saw an ad for Montgomery’s in South Dakota and was hired as e-commerce director right out of school. That’s where I fell in love with the industry.
I worked there for a little less than two years. Then I started to ask myself, ‘What is the future I want?’ I decided to return home and start in the family business. I’ve been at Homemakers for about four years now.
Do you have a mentor? Who do you go to for business advice?
My father, Alan Merschman, and my uncles, Dave and Roger Merschman, have been great from the business standpoint. They have been helpful with teaching me how to lead and empower our teams. Aside from our family, our partner store, NFM, constantly shares ideas: what has been successful, what vendors are working for them, and what’s not working. We have monthly showroom walkabouts with them where we have interesting conversations about things like visual merchandising and promotional strategies. NFM helps us from that 10,000-foot viewpoint.
A whole new generation of influential shoppers is emerging. What are they looking for in home furnishings?
That is such a loaded question. They’re probably not buying a dining room set yet or a full bedroom set, but they are looking for smaller things to update their room or their dorm room. Appealing to Gen Z shoppers makes my job of being a home décor buyer so interesting.
Two years ago, we started looking at Wayfair and Amazon’s approach to home décor.
Two years ago, we started looking at Wayfair and Amazon’s approach to home décor. They sell small ticket items that help build the brand’s customer base, which builds the trust, which leads to larger purchases when that customer has more money to spend. That comes down to meeting them where they are at.
Gen Z likes to shop in-store, but the initial investigating is all online. You can meet them in various places online. We have to speak to them on every platform and we have to communicate with them within the context of each platform that they are on. And that is constantly changing.
A good example is the move from TV commercials to TikTok. How you communicate with a customer with a TV ad is drastically different than a short TikTok video. And then you have Pinterest, which is where they go to be inspired and where they build their inspiration into the larger picture of what they want. It started with boards where you pin, but now you can create a catalog page where you can put snippets of pictures and basically create a mood board. Home décor is so popular there.
How are they shopping differently from previous generations?
Online is obvious; our industry has talked about that for a while. It’s very omnichannel, so hitting them at all points of communication, from social media to your own e-commerce website, to a storefront on Amazon. In comparison to previous generations, it’s how we communicate with them. We’re seeing QR codes really emerge. They took off during COVID — restaurant menus catapulted that.
When I think of this from an in-store perspective, 10 years ago people walked in and always expected to be helped. Now we find a lot of customers want to walk in and do their own thing, but they want you to be right on hand when they need you.
Homemakers has always been very furniture-based. But when we looked at what Wayfair and Amazon did with home décor, we started to rethink our product strategy and created a store-within-a-store with rows upon rows of home décor — an aisle of candles, an aisle of natural color, an aisle of black and white. There’s wall art, lamps, vases and impulse items in the front of the store.
COVID threw us a line because people were in their homes. Now, with inflation, people are more conscientious with their cash. Having little wins in home décor — like a $4.99 Santa statue — really helps. Home décor constantly keeps them coming in the door.
You do the home décor buying for the store. What is your customer looking for, and in turn, how do you shop the category?
My sister, Kelsey Merschman, and I share the category. It’s friendly competition between us, which makes the category better! It’s been good to see how we work together. To my surprise, it’s worked out really well.
Our Iowa market is interesting. Trends start on the West and East coasts and slowly make it to the Midwest. We go to market and always see what’s new, but as a buyer, you have to be careful to consider not only what you are seeing but you also need to identify what would interest the customer in your market.
We post photos on social media during markets to poll our customers about what they like.
We post photos on social media during markets to poll our customers about what they like. A good example would be cane and rattan materials. Three years ago, we posted pictures on social media of furniture featuring cane material and asked, ‘Would you buy this?’ At first it was ‘no, no, no.’ Three years later, we polled them again and they said ‘yes.’
I’ll test a product. It might sell or it won’t move at all. Some will surprise me. Unique trends bring the customer into the store — they look and think ‘Oh, that’s new and exciting.’ And then they start to shop and typically land on a more neutral decision.
The vast majority of my product is in a neutral palette at an attainable price point. I really see home décor thriving in our economy. You have this beautiful sofa, maybe it’s old, but if you change out the rug or the lamp, it helps to create an entire new look for the room. So, I have to make sure I have all of those items for the customer to do that.
Do you have a favorite holiday store tradition?
My favorite is the photos with Santa. In the past we have put on a ‘funny photo with Santa’ contest. We get such cute photos! Seeing them come in every year is a joy.
Any tips on holiday merchandising?
Every year, we create a Christmas marketplace that is just under 10,000 square feet. This year it is the land of gnomes, boho natural materials, whimsical pieces, classic red and green, funny sayings, and black and white.
I would consider what customers look for when they walk in and put that in their line of sight, but also work that throughout the space. Botanicals — wreaths, garland — are all very popular. Candles are also very popular. It’s important not to group them together so that the customer needs to walk through the entire space.
At a Glance:
What was your first job?
I started working at Homemakers when I was 14 before venturing to college. My first job was painting the warehouse stairwells.
Favorite holiday song?
Favorite holiday movie?
Christmas Vacation. “I don’t KNOW Margo,” is the best line!
Favorite snack in Homemakers HOMEgrounds café?
I’m an odd duck and have never had a love for cookies! A strawberry acai refresher is my favorite or a glass of wine after work hours. We added alcoholic beverages to HOMEgrounds in 2022. Customers and employees love to sip and shop.
What are you reading?
I’m reading The Gutsy Girl Handbook by Kate White for the third time. It offers straightforward, realistic strategies for women in any field.
Do you have a favorite podcast?
I prefer searching for interviews to listen to on YouTube, but a I do love Gary Vaynerchuk’s marketing podcast.
This story originally appeared as a Portrait in HAT’s December issue.